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The Power of Words

For the last generation, Republicans have been referring to their opposition as the “Democrat” (not the Democratic) Party. It is not innocent. It is a sign of contempt, and goes back at least to the 1976 vice presidential debate, when Republican Bob Dole referred derisively to “Democrat wars.”

Ever since, the Republicans have goaded the Democrats with the harsh, rodent-rhyming word, while Democrats have had to grit their teeth, lacking a similar word to throw back at their adversaries.

But those days may be over. At the 11th Annual American Democracy Conference at Washington’s Newseum on Thursday, a Democratic operative referred in needling fashion to the “tea baggers” – they, the vocal conservative populists of the “Tea Party” movement. While not formally aligned with either party, for better or worse they are most closely identified in the public mind with the Republicans.

Whether they are allies worth having will be seen in the months ahead. As it is, they provide a semantic target for the Democrats. Once the “tea bagger” remark was made, a Republican operative on the conference panel visibly blanched, not quite sure how to respond. In a minute, he had found his tongue, referring to a flaw in the “Democrat” Party.  

Note: The American Democracy Conference was cosponsored by the University of Virginia Center for Politics and Politico.

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